Joseph Mallord William Turner

Perspective Diagram, after Heinrich Lautensack

c.1809

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 88 x 115 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D07431
Turner Bequest CVIII 45

Catalogue entry

The elaborated triangular shape in this diagram is annotated in ink ‘equal’ up an inclined line bisecting it, and ‘dimini<...>shed’ down its near-vertical left-hand side.
Maurice Davies has suggested the source of this diagram is possibly Heinrich Lautensack, Des Circkels unt Richtscheyts, auch der Perspectiva, Frankfurt 1564, ‘pp 3 or 4’.1 However, those two similar diagrams, respectively plates 7 (folio 3 verso) and 8 (4 recto) show lines radiating down from the top left to horizontal, measured lines with numbers and letters.
Turner’s sketch seems rather to be taken from plate 47, a double-page diagram tipped in between folios 29 and 30, showing two parallel, vertical features at the far left, the first of which is marked with horizontal divisions diminishing as they near the top, and the second with equal divisions throughout. From these features, independent cones of vision (divided mid-way by oblique lines like the one marked ‘equal’ in Turner’s sketch) converge on the eyes of two small figures standing at the centre and to the right of the diagram. The intention seems to be to show how equal divisions of a vertical surface will seem to diminish the higher they are above the observer, though Lautensack’s imprecisely engraved diagram is not exact enough to demonstrate this measurably.
There are other dagrams from the book, which Turner probably consulted at the British Museum (since transferred to the British Library, London), on folios 68 verso and 69 recto (D07468, D07469).

Matthew Imms
June 2008

1
Davies 1994, p.288.

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